IIHS tests find ‘irksome’ and ‘dangerous’ flaws with automated driving systems

If you’re hoping that the development of fully autonomous cars are just around the corner, then you may be in for a long wait.

That’s the verdict of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which has put together a series of tests and found many of the leading automated driving systems weren’t up to the task.

Five models were evaluated by the road safety body; the BMW 5 Series, with ‘Driving Assistant Plus’, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class with ‘Drive Pilot’, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 and 2016 Tesla Model S, and the Volvo S90 with ‘Pilot Assist.’

The cars were tested around adaptive cruise control (ACC) and active lane-keeping. For the latter, focus was given to curves and hills, in tests on open roads with no other vehicles around. The Tesla Model 3 was by some distance the best performing vehicle in this section, staying within its line on 18 out of 18 tests on curves, and only touching the line once on hills. In contrast, the 5 Series did not stay within its lane once on hills, and only managed to do so three times out of 16 valid trials on curves.

Regarding one particularly hilly section of Central Virginia, it was noted by engineers that advanced driver assistance systems which rely on road markings to centre their vehicles struggled with inclines – as when a vehicle crests a hill the lane markers beyond are obscured. Another more general issue was that some vehicles followed a lead vehicle – which is also commonly used for tracking – into an exit lane in slow moving traffic even if the following vehicle did not want to go there.

Ultimately, these driver assistance features constitute level 2 autonomy in SAE International’s zero to five scale – the system can assist with steering, speed control and following distance, but the human driver is still in charge and must remain alert. As a result, IIHS argues more research needs to be conducted. But the theme of the study was clear.

Last month, in the UK at least, a plan was launched by the government around becoming a ‘world leader in shaping the future of mobility’, including fully self-driving cars on UK roads by 2021.

Yet this may be seen as a tad optimistic in the face of IIHS figures. “We’re not ready to say yet which company has the safest implementation of level 2 driver assistance, but it’s important to note that none of these vehicles is capable of driving safely on its own,” said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer.

“A production autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime isn’t available at your local car dealer and won’t be for quite some time.”

Main picture credit: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety